Exclaim!'s 12 Best TV Shows of 2021
Published Dec 08, 2021TV has been stealing attention away from movies for years, but in 2021, that transition felt complete. With cinemas throughout much of Canada closed for a chunk of the year, there were no big Endgame-style theatrical events.
Instead, seemingly every big cinematic moment of 2021 took place on the small screen. Whether it was Squid Game smashing Netflix records, Succession turning every Sunday into a barrage of Kendall memes, or SNL parodying Mare of Easttown's extremely specific regional accents, TV was at the centre of cultural conversations in 2021, and film just couldn't seem to keep up.
And it's no wonder, because the were a lot of great series this year. Exclaim!'s list of the best series of the year includes three different HBO prestige shows, the most heartwarming sitcom of the year, and a new teen show that puts a fresh spin on a classic story. Read the list below.
12. Ted Lasso
While Ted Lasso Season 2 wasn't better than Season 1, the new season continued to bank on the comedic charms of American coach Ted Lasso, played impeccably by Jason Sudeikis. He continues to drop gold one-liners with laugh-out-loud comic timing while simultaneously warming viewers' hearts with his philosophical theories on life. This season also gives more screentime to the other characters: scene stealer Brett Goldstein as Roy Kent, Juno Temple's Keeley and Hannah Waddingham's Rebecca Welton all bring more depth to the well-rounded ensemble. There are moments that may make you laugh and tear up at the same time, and that is the gift that Ted Lasso keeps on giving.
The MCU is known for its high-stakes superhero adventures with tons of galactic battles involving its many characters. But this year's WandaVision, created by Jac Schaeffer, took a much different approach, instead focusing on a smaller-scale story centred on Wanda Maximoff and husband Vision. It's an emotional watch that deals with grief, loss and love in mesmerizingly clever ways. Elizabeth Olsen's terrific performance is just the cherry on top.
10. The Underground Railroad
Moonlight director Barry Jenkins brings Colson Whitehead's 2016 novel to the small screen with this limited series. The director's epic takes shape through his remarkable vision, which is anchored by an unflinching ensemble of actors (particularly Aaron Pierre, Thuso Mbedu and Joel Edgerton) and an unconventional episodic rhythm, with episodes running from 20 minutes to near-feature length films. Jenkins captures the horrifying realities of slavery in America while drawing on the fantastical elements his fans have become accustomed to in his theatrical works.
9. Only Murders in the Building
What do you get when you place Steve Martin, Martin Short and Selena Gomez in a complex murder mystery set in a classic NYC apartment building? You get Only Murders in the Building, an outrageously entertaining comedy series that may be short in runtime but is big on laughs, intrigue and heart. This is one series that will keep you hooked from beginning to end.
Following the bombshell cliffhanger ending of Season 2, audiences have had to wait to see how America's wealthiest and most dysfunctional family would react — and Season 3 doesn't disappoint. The Roy family and their accomplices are as nasty (and unsympathetically hilarious) as ever, with manipulation and backstabbing all on the menu. A special shout out to Matthew Macfadyen, who elicits such pity and vitriol as Tom Wambsgans that he stands out as the most fascinating creature in a zoo of the worst people imaginable.
Andie MacDowell and Margaret Qualley, real-life mother and daughter, portray the hardships of single-motherhood, poverty and domestic abuse for Netflix's Margot Robbie-produced Maid. It's a primal scream for all women, as it shows back-to-back devastations and the resilience and determination that follow. Against the stunning backdrop of the Pacific Northwest's greys and greens, Qualley embodies an imperfect heroine: a house cleaner for the well-off, a homeless mother, a crafty survivor. We watch her forge a brand new life from nothing, aided by the companionship and compassion of clients. It's awe-inspiring, sensitive and lush — a feat given its soul-crushing plot.
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